“When Jesus Calls” – John 1:43-51

Sunday, January 26, 2020

John 1:43-51

“When Jesus Calls”


Service Orientation: In Jesus we discover the living link between heaven and earth. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one makes it to the Father except through him.


Memory Verse for the Week: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”  1 John 3:16


Background Information:

  • One more perspective to note involves not so much a title (a label at generally identifies one’s rank or status) as a self-designation: Jesus spoke of himself to Nathaniel as the Son of Man upon whom Nathaniel would see… the angels of God ascending and descending (John 1:51). This language leads us to the story of Jacob’s dream (see Genesis 28:10-22) in which Jacob saw a “stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it” (28:12). God himself stood at the top of these stairs, promising to bring Jacob back to that land and to prosper his descendants upon it. So overwhelmed was Jacob at the sight that he constructed a shrine at that place, since the stairway and its angelic traffic seemed like the very “gate of heaven.” Taking hold of this imagery, Jesus identified himself as the stairway to heaven, the path through which heaven and earth would come into contact with each other. He promised not only that Nathaniel would see such a marvel take place, but that you shall see it (John 1:50, my emphasis), with “you” being plural in the Greek text. The rest of this Gospel suggests that all who believe in Jesus will see (and be rightly related to) God. (Joseph Dongell, John: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, 52)
  • Whereas the first disciples were introduced by to Jesus by John the Baptist or by one of the other disciples, Jesus took the initiative in calling Phillip. He, like Andrew and Peter, was a Galilean and quite likely a fisherman. The name Bethsaida, his hometown, means “house of fishing”. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, 40)
  • The reason Nathanael has trouble with Jesus’ coming from Nazareth is probably because the Messiah was not expected to be associated with Nazareth. Nathanael’s question is usually understood as a negative one, though some of the church fathers took the tone as positive—that something good could come from Nazareth. It is probably neither entirely negative nor positive but simply a genuine question, expressing his doubts. He has reason to question whether Jesus is the one promised, but he is open to the possibility that Jesus is, as his subsequent action and confession show. (Rodney A. Whitacre, The IVP New
    Testament Commentary Series: John, 73)


The question to be answered is…

What significant things do we discover about Jesus’ calling, kingdom, and mission from this text?



By looking closely at who and how Jesus calls, we can gain a deeper appreciation of God’s grace. This text illustrates that regardless of who or how Jesus calls, He alone is the conduit connecting heaven and earth.


The word of the day is… call


What should catch our attention as we reflect on Jesus’ calling of His disciples? 


  1. The disciples Jesus called were… well… different.

(Mat. 8:25; 14:17, 30; 15:33; 17:23; 26:35, 40, 45; 26:56; Mark 9:34; John 20:25; Acts 4:13)

These are men we want to know. That’s because they were perfectly ordinary men in every way. Not one of them was renowned for scholarship or great erudition. They had no track record as orators or theologians. In fact, they were outsiders as far as the religious establishment of Jesus’ day was concerned. They were not outstanding because of any natural talents or intellectual abilities. On the contrary, they were all too prone to mistakes, misstatements, wrong attitudes, lapses of faith, and bitter failure—no one more so than the leader of the group, Peter. Even Jesus remarked that they were slow learners and somewhat spiritually dense. (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men, Kindle Edition, Location 71)


  1. Jesus’ call to each came differently.
    (Mat. 4:18-22; Mark 1:14-20; Luke 5:1-11; John 1:35-51)

The fact before us is a deeply important one. It throws light on the history of all God’s people in every age, and of every tongue. There are diversities of operations in the saving of souls. All true Christians are led by one Spirit, washed in one blood, serve one Lord, lean on one Saviour, believe one truth, and walk by one general rule. But all are not converted in one and the same manner. All do not pass through the same experience. In conversion, the Holy Ghost acts as a sovereign. He calleth every one severally as he will. (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John Vol.1, 55)


  1. This text highlights Jesus’ omniscience.

(Mark 2:8; 5:30-32; John 1:1, 50; 16:30; 21:17)

Jesus’ direct, intimate knowledge of him must have taken Nathanael by surprise. He was not offended, just intensely curious. If we remember that God’s grace and love come to us even though he knows all about us, we may find ourselves being even more grateful to him.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary, 27)


  1. In this text Jesus reveals his sole sufficiency.

(John 3:36; 8:24; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 5:12)

As Son of Man, Jesus is the “living link” between heaven and earth. This explains His reference to “Jacob’s ladder” in Genesis 28. Jacob the fugitive thought he was alone, but God had sent the angels to guard and guide him. Christ is God’s “ladder” between heaven and earth. “No man cometh to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Often in this gospel, you will find Jesus reminding people that He came down from heaven. The Jewish people knew that the “Son of man” was a name for their Messiah (John 12:34). (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1, 289)


Conclusion…What’s the “take-away” in all this? 


A. Take time to appreciate the uniqueness of your journey as a disciple.

(Ps. 139:14; Rom. 12:3-8; 1 Cor. 12:12-26; Eph. 2:8-9; 1 Pet. 4:10)

We must beware of making the experience of other believers the measure of our own. We must beware of denying another’s grace, because he has not been led by the same way as ourselves. Has a man got the real grace of God? This is the only question that concerns us.—ls he a penitent man? Is he a believer? Does he live a holy life?—Provided these inquiries can be answered satisfactorily, we may well be content. It matters nothing by what path a man has been led, if he has only been led at last into the right way. (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John Vol.1, 55)


B. Take comfort in the fact that Jesus is omniscient and has called you anyways.

(Ps. 103:10; Acts 15:11; Rom. 3:24; 5:15; 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9)

The Lord would not have gone the dark, hard way of the cross to find you and me had He not considered us worth the awful price. (J.C. Macaulay, Expository Commentary on John, 31)


Left to ourselves, we are of little account, but found by the Lord Jesus, we can become under His hand something for His everlasting delight and glory. (J.C. Macaulay, Expository Commentary on John, 31)


C. In light of God’s grace to you, allow Him to call others through you.

(Is. 6:8; Mat. 9:37-38; 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:6; 10:10-17; 1 Pet. 3:15)

 Martin Luther once said, “Every Christian must become Christ to his neighbor.” Was he suggesting that each Christian should die on a cross to atone for the sins of his neighbors? No, he was saying that Christ is invisible to our unbelieving neighbors. They don’t see the cross, the empty tomb, or the transfigured Jesus. They don’t see Him in His ascended glory, and they don’t see Him at the right hand of the Father. All they see is you and me—and in seeing us, they must see Christ. (R.C. Sproul, What is the Great Commission? pp. 9-10)

We are saved by God’s grace when we believe in Jesus and put our faith in him, but biblical belief is more than something we confess with our mouths; it’s something we confess with our lives. (Kyle Idleman, Not A Fan, 104)


D. Rejoice in knowing that Christ alone serves as the conduit to heaven.

(John 3:36; 8:24; 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5; 1 John 5:12)

 The ladder is Christ, and only by Him can you and I make contact with God. The Lord Jesus said, ” … I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He is the ladder—not one that you climb, but One that you trust, One that you rest upon and believe in. That is the important thing to see here. (J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary Series, John, 37-38)


Worship Point…

Jesus is worthy of our worship because he alone is the means by which we can ascend to the Father.

(Mat. 2:21; 15:33; 28:17; Luke 24:52; 1 Cor. 8:6; Phil. 2:9-11; Heb. 1:6 )


For a soul to come to Jesus, is the grandest event in its history. It is spiritually dead till that day; but it then begins to live, and a saved man may reckon his age from the time in which he first knew the Lord. (C.H. Spurgeon, Sermon #2357, June 24th, 1888.)


Following Jesus means following him alone. Fans don’t want to put Jesus on the throne of their hearts. Instead they keep a couch on their hearts and, at the most, give Jesus a cushion. (Kyle Idleman, Not A Fan, 63)




Gospel Application…

Jesus is omniscient, yet seeks and saves sinners anyways. To those in Christ, this is great news. 


The disciples were ordinary Galileans with no special claims on the interest of Jesus. But Jesus, the rabbi who spoke with authority, the prophet who was more than a prophet, the master who evoked in them increasing awe and devotion till they could not but acknowledge him as their-God, found them, called them to himself, took them into his confidence and enrolled them as his agents to declare to the world the kingdom of God. (J.I. Packer, Knowing God, 37)


Spiritual Challenge Questions…

Reflect on these questions in your time with the Lord this week, or discuss with a Christian family member or life group.

  • What are some unique aspects about how Jesus has called you to follow Him? Was it direct, through preaching, through a friend, or through some other encounter?
  • Has Jesus used you to help call others to Him in the past? If so, how? If you can’t think of any particular instance, what are some ways Jesus could use you?
  • Jesus being the only way to God is a big point of contention with many people. Why is that, and how does that fact impact the way you treat those who are not yet following Jesus?
  • Does the fact that Jesus is omniscient cause you anxiety? Why? Does the fact that He loves and calls you anyway bring any comfort or balance to that? If so, how?

Quotes to note…

Jesus is not only “Son of Man,” but “the Son of Man.” He is our Pattern. In Him we see what God intended for each of us in creation. And even though we have fallen, squandered our destiny in angry disobedience, God has not given up on us. Jesus brings the possibility of a new creation. We see in “the Son of Man” what we can become. Here is the “finished product.” Here is what it means to be truly human. When Jesus speaks of Himself as “the Son of Man” throughout the Gospel, it is sometimes veiled with eschatological meanings. But here at the outset Jesus says simply, “As the Son of Man I stand on your side. I am with you.” (Roger L. Fredrikson, The Communicator’s Commentary: John, 64)


The fact that God honored the personal efforts of two of these early converts, shows He is pleased to give a prominent place to personal work in His means of saving souls. (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 64)



Now, Jesus, in essence, is saying, “I am the ladder. I am the access by which man can come to God. I’m the One who ties heaven and earth together. You’re going to see heaven open. You’re going to see the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.” So, the Son of man is the ladder by which heaven is joined to earth. (Chuck Smith Commentary on John, https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/smith_chuck/c2000_Jhn/)


Christianity without the living Christ is inevitably Christianity without discipleship, and Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, 59)


The Greek wording of 1:43 does not precisely determine whether Andrew or Jesus himself went and found Philip. In any event, Philip went and found Nathaniel, demonstrating the influence of friendship bonds. In every case (Philip’s case may be an exception), the good news about Jesus spread through preexisting relationships of trust. It is also instructive to note that Simon Peter, who would emerge as preeminent among the Twelve, owed his first contact with Jesus to another man, his own brother. (Joseph Dongell, John: A Commentary in the Wesleyan Tradition, 49)


The other disciples had either come to or were brought to Jesus, but Jesus found Philip, who may have lacked initiative to come on his own. Philip seems to have been an ordinary kind of man, at times actually in over his head. When Jesus asked him about feeding the five thousand, his answer was that there was very little money on hand, not even enough to buy a small amount for each one (John 6:5—7). He saw only how little there was. And later when the Greeks came seeking Jesus, they first came to Philip, perhaps because of his name. But he seems to be caught off guard, hardly knowing what to do, so he brings them to Thomas (John 12:21). And after following Jesus through all the experiences of His ministry, he still asks near the end, ” ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us’ ” (John 14:8—9).  (Roger L. Fredrikson, The Communicator’s Commentary: John, 61)


46 The response of Nathanael indicates that Nazareth did not enjoy a good reputation in Galilee. Perhaps Nathanael, who came from Bethsaida, looked down on Nazareth as a rival village, either poorer or morally worse than his own. (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 9, 41)


The picture of Jesus that emerges from this opening scene is quite different from the picture we usually have of him. The great activity surrounding Jesus that we usually think of will in fact be described by John. But here at the outset John gives us a glimpse of the enormous depths of silence that lay behind all that Jesus does. Jesus is fully engaged in his historical circumstances, but he is not centered in them nor controlled by them. (Rodney A. Whitacre, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: John, 72)


The section begins with the calling of Philip. The main point to notice is precisely that now Jesus does call someone to follow him, unlike the first disciples’ having taken initiative themselves. Andrew found Simon (v. 41), and now Jesus finds Philip (v. 43). Philip also goes to find another person to tell about Jesus (v. 45), which suggests that such sharing is a characteristic of the disciples. Many sermons on missions and evangelism have rightly been based on these passages: to find and share the divine presence found in Jesus is to take part in the Son’s own mission to the world. (Rodney A. Whitacre, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: John, 73)


Both Nathanael and Jesus’ opponents begin by questioning Jesus’ identity on the basis of his origin, but unlike the opponents Nathanael ends by confessing Jesus and being promised greater revelation. (Rodney A. Whitacre, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: John, 73)


No one is without falseness within, but there are those who nevertheless desire truth before anything. Most of us must be pruned for years before we approach such single-hearted desire for God. Mercifully God accepts us before we even begin to desire him, and by his grace he undertakes the purging of all our duplicity and deceitfulness. (Rodney A. Whitacre, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: John, 74)


A great deal of John’s gospel has to do with the way in which Jesus fulfills the promises made concerning the Temple — and also goes beyond them, pioneering the new way in which the living God will be present with his people. This was hinted at in the Prologue (1.14). When John says that the Word became flesh ‘and lived among us’, the word for ‘lived’ is a word associated with the presence of God ‘tabernacling’ or ‘pitching his tent’ in our midst. The thought of a tent in which God lived would send Jewish minds back to the tabernacle in the wilderness at the time of the Exodus, and from there to the Temple in Jerusalem where God’s presence was promised. (N.T. Wright, John for Everyone, Part 1, 18)


Whether the Lord uses a human instrument or not, it is Christ Himself who seeks out and finds each one who, subsequently, becomes His follower. Our seeking of Him is only the reflex action of His first seeking us, just as we love Him because He first loved us. (Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John, 72)


“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there? Nathanael’s statement does not necessarily mean that there was anything wrong with the town. Nazareth was possibly despised by the Jews because a Roman army garrison was located there. (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary, 26)


1:48 “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Here Jesus unveiled his omniscience to Nathanael. Jesus had been aware of Nathanael’s exact location before Philip called him. According to Jewish tradition, the expression ‘to sit under the fig tree” was a euphemism for meditating on the Scriptures. Thus, Jesus had seen Nathanael studying the Scriptures before Philip had called him to come and see Jesus. (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary, 27)


Our Lord was born in Bethlehem, but He grew up in Nazareth and bore that stigma (Matt 2:19-23). To be called “a Nazarene” (Acts 24:5) meant to be looked down on and rejected. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1, 289)


When Nathanael came to Jesus, he discovered that the Lord already knew all about him! What a shock! By calling him “an Israelite in whom is no guile,” Jesus was certainly referring to Jacob, the ancestor of the Jews, a man who used guile to trick his brother, his father, and his father-in-law. Jacob’s name was changed to “Israel, a prince with God.” The reference to “Jacob’s ladder in John 1:51 confirms this. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1, 289)


Some students believe that Nathanael and Bartholomew are the same person. John never mentions Bartholomew in his gospel,  but the other three writers name Bartholomew and not Nathanael. Philip is linked with Bartholomew in the lists of names (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14), so it is possible that the two men were “paired off’ and served together. It was not unusual in that day for one man to have two different names. (Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary Vol. 1, 289)


Augustine sees an allegory in the fig-tree, and gravely says, that ‘as Adam and Eve, when they had sinned, made themselves aprons of fig-leaves, fig-leaves must signify sins. Nathanael therefore being under the fig-tree signifies being under the shadow of death!’ (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John Vol.1, 60)



Do we stumble at this saying? Do we find it hard to see Christ in the Old Testament, because we do not see his name? Let us be sure that the fault is all our own. It is our spiritual vision which is to blame, and not the book. The eyes of our understanding need to be enlightened. The veil has yet to be taken away. Let us pray for a more humble, childlike, and teachable spirit, and let us take up ‘Moses and the prophets’ again. Christ is there, though our eyes may not yet have seen him. May we never rest till we can subscribe to our Lord’s words about the Old Testament Scriptures: ‘They are they which testify of me’ (John 5:39). (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John Vol.1, 56)


If we call ourselves true Christians, let us never be afraid to deal with people about their souls as Philip dealt with Nathanael. Let us invite them boldly to make proof of our religion. Let us tell them confidently that they cannot know its real value until they have tried it. Let us assure them that vital Christianity courts every possible inquiry, it has no secrets. It has nothing to conceal. Its faith and practice are spoken against, just because they are not known. Its enemies speak evil of things with which they are not acquainted. They understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm. Philip’s mode of dealing, we may be sure, is one principal way to do good. Few are ever moved by reasoning and argument. Still fewer are frightened into repentance. The man who does most good to souls, is often the simple believer who says to his friends, ‘I have found a Saviour; come and see him.’ (J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on John Vol.1, 57)


Our Lord had said to this man, “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no Jacob.” Now He follows up on this by referring to the incident in the life of the patriarch Jacob when, as a young man, he had run away from home. In fact, he had to leave home because his brother Esau was after him to murder him. His first night away from home was at Beth-el, and there the Lord appeared to him. A ladder was let down from heaven, and on that ladder the angels were ascending and descending. The meaning for Jacob was that God had not lost contact with him. He had thought that when he left home, he had left God back there. He had a limited view of God, of course. At Beth-el he learned that God would be with him.  Our Lord picks that up here and says that the ladder was Himself, You’ll see now the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. The angels ministered to Him, and the angels were subject to Him. Here He was given charge over the angels. He could send them as messengers to heaven, and they would return also. So Jesus says that Nathanael will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. He is going to see that the Father from the top of that ladder will speak of this One, saying, “…This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17)*

The ladder is Christ, and only by Him can you and I make contact with God. The Lord Jesus said, ” … I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He is the ladder—not one that you climb, but One that you trust, One that you rest upon and believe in. That is the important thing to see here. (J. Vernon McGee, Thru The Bible Commentary Series, John, 37-38)


In the spiritual realm there are no chance finds. Any really worthwhile discovery is the end of diligent search. (J.C. Macaulay, Expository Commentary on John, 27)














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